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Reading as a Writer

I’d like to say that I can’t believe I haven’t blogged since October but the truth is I can believe. 2020 sucked. We can all agree on that and in someways 2021 is off to a dumpster fire of a start too. So, as most writers and readers do I turn to stories for comfort, hope, and good ole fashion escapism. I hope for this to be the first in a line of blogs about writing and books and how they intertwine and maybe even a bit about what I’m reading.

As a lot of my longtime readers know I was an avid reader long before I was a writer or I should say professional writer. As a kid I ate up books and got age inappropriate books tossed at me by my negligent mother. (Other blogs talk about her and my CPTSD at length. No need to go into here.) But needless to say like most self-described readers stories fueled my soul. For me it was a natural progression from reader to writer. I never imagined doing it professionally as a kid. It seemed like a long shot for me, but here I am paying my bills with romance novels. While I’m far from fame and fortune I’m more than making due most of the time.

I guess that qualifies me to answer a question a lot of younger or new writers ask me. Recently, this question has hit my inbox a lot.

Maggie, what books should new writers read?

I know they want books about writing and crafting plots and characters and yeah, I read a lot of those as a teenager, but you can study something in theory forever and never get it down.

My suggestion is to just follow Stephen King’s advice – read everything. Literally, read all the time. In the supermarket line (Wear your damn mask!) and while the water is boiling for the pasta or the chicken’s in the oven. Read while you’re waiting for that Zoom call for work. Wake up in the middle of the night stressed out by the state of the world? Read a few pages until your brain shuts up. And no you won’t still other people’s ideas. You’re researching. You’re experiencing what you want to do (if you want to write a book that is.) There are some things you can only learn as a reader in my humble opinion.

I was about 14 when I let an adult friend of the family read the start of a story I was working on. I knew she was only reading the seven pages front and back written by hand on lined notebook paper torn from a spiral notebook to humor me. I watched her – holding my breath – yeah, she was humoring but maybe she had some insight too. Well, I watched her there at her kitchen table – nervously sipping sweet tea as she read the start of a story that I never finished writing. It wasn’t important that I finished it. What was important was the feedback she gave me. She read it – taking her time and turning through the pages carefully as if they were a sacred document. Then when she finished she set them aside and took a drink of her tea.

“You know, this actually reads like a book.”

That line would stand out to me for the rest of my teens as I scribbled stories I never finished. As I wrote a complete novel – and started a sequel by hand. I mean, I figured I knew what I was doing (not as much as I thought, but I knew how to make it sound like a book. lol) but hearing that kept me reading. No one told me how to write a book. I hadn’t read any fancy writing advice books by then. I learned from reading.

So, that’s my best advice for new writers – read the books you enjoy. You’ll learn more than you realize as you go along. Of course, there are some books on writing I’ll recommend because most people don’t like the above answer.

On Writing by Stephen King : I find myself returning to this book every few years. I can quote some of his advice by heart but I still enjoy reading it. Sometimes reading this book reminds me of what I love about writing. If you haven’t read it and you’re into the written word – check it out.

The Elements of Style by William Strunk Jr. : Yes, I see all of you rolling your eyes at me! It’s an older book, but if you want to know the nitty-gritty of writing you could start in worse places.

The Writer’s Journey by Christopher Vogler: Yes, this is another older book, but it covers the hero’s journey wonderfully.

Happy reading and happy writing and until next time stay safe and healthy out there!

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